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Catholic Journalist Stress Mission to Bring the Truth Called to Be Witnesses of the Word By Jesús Colina

VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Some of the 230 Catholic communications professionals from 85 countries who were received Thursday by Benedict XVI commented to ZENIT on their mission to bring truth to the world. The Pope received in audience participants from the four-day World Press Congress organized by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, which ended Thursday. Among those present in the audience was Saverio Gaeta, journalist of "Famiglia Cristiana," the largest weekly publication in Italy. Gaeta said he was very impressed by the appeal the Pontiff "made to all of us, Catholic journalists, to seek the truth with passionate minds and hearts but also with professionalism." "His appeal points essentially to the responsibility that is derived from being Catholics in an explicit way through the commitment to follow the masterful way of truth," added the journalist and author. "In fact," he said, "the word truth came many times from the Pope's lips, as for him the Truth means, obviously, Jesus Christ." "In this sense," Gaeta continued, "he asked that the virtual world not be confused with the real world, that the fictitious idea of an abstract good not be confused with what is the concrete good, which for us is Jesus Christ, that we want to

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proclaim with our work as Catholic journalists." Miguel Ángel Velasco, director of the weekly "Alfa and Omega," published by the Archdiocese of Madrid and distributed by ABC newspaper, acknowledged that his attention was caught especially by "the personal appeal he made to us to opt for Christ; from that all the rest will derive." Specifically, this journalist and writer stressed two original ideas, typical of Joseph Ratzinger, which he touched upon in his meeting with the Catholic press. "On one hand, he explained that 'to live as if God didn't exist' becomes an inhuman humanism," Velasco said. He continued: "And, in the second place, he explained that our mission as Catholic journalists consists in helping to keep burning the lamp of hope. In a moment as difficult as that of present-day society, an appeal to hope by the Pope is very good." Relativism Among the participants in the meeting with the Holy Father was the president of the Ramon Pane Foundation, Ricardo Grzona, who has dedicated himself to communicating the Word of God with new technologies and is the creator of the "Lectionautas" project. Grzona spoke to ZENIT about the words that Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, president of the Pontifical Council for Social Communications,

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addressed to the Pope, in which he presented the context of the work of Catholic communicators -- the "dictatorship of relativism." The expression had been used by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger in the homily he addressed to the College of Cardinals at the beginning of the Conclave from which he would emerge elected Pope. Grzona noted that the Holy Father used "very forceful phrases. In the first place, he said, anyone who works in journalism must be willing to be a messenger of the truth and one must be careful, as the truth cannot be confused with lies or the absence of truth." "Today it is very common to confuse the real and the virtual," Grzona continued. "That is why the Pope concluded his address calling us to be witnesses of the Word with a capital "W," who became flesh in Mary's womb, Jesus of Nazareth, the only Word that the Father has pronounced to save us wholly." Grzona concluded: "Jesus said 'I am the Truth.' We must be witnesses of the Truth and not of the appearance of truth." The audience also allowed for more personal meetings between the communications professionals and Benedict XVI. Among those who greeted the Pope personally was one of the speakers at the world congress, Daniel Arasa,


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professor at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross. He recalled: "I greeted the Holy Father. I told him that we pray much for him. Knowing that I was from Barcelona, he told me that he would soon travel to Spain. I told him that we are praying for that trip and that we await him in the University of the Holy Cross. And at that moment, he smiled at me."

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PAPAL ADDRESS TO CATHOLIC PRESS

"New Technologies ... Can Make the True and the False Interchangeable" VATICAN CITY, OCT. 7, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI gave today to participants of the World Press Congress, which ended today in Rome. The event was sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. *** Esteemed Cardinals, Venerated Brothers, Distinguished Gentlemen and Ladies, I receive you with joy at the end of the four days of intense work promoted by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications and dedicated to the Catholic press. I cordially greet all of you -- coming from 85 countries -- who work in newspapers, weeklies or in other periodicals and Internet sites. I greet the president of the dicastery, Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, whom I thank for giving voice to the sentiments of all, as well as the secretaries, the under-secretary and all the officials and staff. I am happy to be able to address a word of

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encouragement to you to continue, with renewed motivations, your important and qualified work. The world of the media is going through a profound transformation also within itself. The development of the new technologies and, in particular, widespread multimedia, seems to call into question the role of the more traditional and consolidated media. Appropriately, your conference pauses to consider the specific role of the Catholic press. A careful reflection on this field, in fact, brings up two particular aspects: on one hand the specificity of the means -- the press, that is, the written word and its timeliness and efficacy, in a society which has seen antennas, satellite dishes and satellites multiply, becoming almost the emblem of a new way of communicating in the era of globalization. And the other point, the connotation "Catholic," with the responsibility that derives from it to be faithful in an explicit and substantial way, through the daily commitment to follow the masterful

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way of truth. The search for truth must be pursued by Catholic journalists with a passionate mind and heart, but also with the professionalism of competent staff who are equipped with adequate and effective means. This is even more important in the present historical moment, which asks of the figure itself of the journalist, as mediator of the flow of information, to undertake a profound change. Today, for example, the world of the image with the development of ever new technologies has ever greater weight in communication. But if on one hand this entails undoubtedly positive aspects, on the other hand, the image can also become independent of reality; it can give life to a virtual world, with several consequences, the first of which is the risk of indifference to truth. In fact, the new technologies, together with the progress they entail, can make the true and the


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" the recording of an event, joyful or sad, can be consumed as a spectacle only and not as an occasion for reflection" Pope Benedict XVI

false interchangeable; they can induce one to confuse the real with the virtual. Moreover, the recording of an event, joyful or sad, can be consumed as a spectacle and not as an occasion for reflection. The search for the paths of an authentic promotion of man then takes second place, because the event is presented primarily to arouse emotions. These aspects sound like an alarm bell: They invite consideration of the danger that the virtual draws away from reality and does not stimulate the search for the true, for the truth. In this context, the Catholic press is called, in a new way, to express to the heights its potential and to give a reason day in and day out for its mission that can never be given up. The Church has a facilitating element, since the Christian faith has in common with communication a fundamental structure: the fact that the means and the message coincide; indeed, the Son of God, the Incarnate Word, is at the same time message of salvation and means through which salvation is realized. And this is not a simple concept, but a reality accessible to all, also those who while living as protagonists in the complexity of the world, are capable of preserving the intellectual honesty

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proper to the "little ones" of the Gospel. Moreover the Church, Mystical Body of Christ, present at the same time everywhere, nourishes the capacity of more fraternal and more human relations, being a place of communion among believers and, at the same time, a sign and instrument of everyone's vocation to communion. Her strength is Christ, and in his name she "pursues" man on the roads of the world to save him from the "mysterium iniquitatis," insidiously operating in him. The Catholic press evokes more directly, as compared to other means of communication, the value of the written word. The Word of God has come to men and has been given to us also through a book, the Bible. The word continues to be the fundamental instrument and, in a certain sense, the constitutive instrument of communication: It is used today under various forms, and in the so-called civilization of the image it also keeps its entire value. From these brief considerations, it seems evident that the communicative challenge is, for the Church and for all those who share her mission, very involved. Christians cannot ignore the crisis of faith that has come to society, or simply trust that the patrimony of the values

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transmitted in the course of past centuries can continue inspiring and shaping the future of the human family. The idea of living "as if God didn't exist" has shown itself to be deadly: The world needs, rather, to live "as if God existed," even if it does not have the strength to believe; otherwise it will only produce an "inhuman humanism." My very dear brothers and sisters, whoever works in the media, if he does not wish to be "a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal" (1 Corinthians 13:1) -- as Saint Paul would say -must have well-rooted in himself the underlying option that enables him to deal with the things of the world placing God always at the top of the scale of values. The times we are living through -- despite having a notable positive weight, because the threads of history are in God's hands and his eternal design is ever more revealed -- are also marked by many shadows. Your task, dear members of the Catholic press, is to help contemporary man to orient himself to Christ, only Savior, and to keep burning the flame of hope in the world, to live worthily our today and to build the future appropriately. Because of this I exhort you to constantly renew your personal


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choice for Christ, drinking from those spiritual resources that the worldly mentality underestimates, despite the fact they are valuable, more than that, indispensable. Dear friends, I encourage you to continue in your endeavor that is not easy, and I accompany you with my prayer, so that the Holy Spirit will always make it fruitful. My blessing, full of affection and gratitude, which I am pleased to impart, intends to embrace all of you here present and all those who work in the Catholic press worldwide. [Translation by ZENIT]

CNS Rome bureau chief John Thavis at Park East Synagogue in New York April 18. Thavis, who has covered the Vatican for more than 25 years for Catholic News Service, also covered Pope John Paul II’s historic visit to a Rome synagogue in 1986

Congress Address on Catholic Media and Controversy

"Catholic Press Is Different … Because it Shares in the Mission of the Church" ROME, OCT. 9, 2010 (Zenit.org).Here is the text of an address given Tuesday by John Thavis, Rome bureau chief of Catholic News Service, during a roundtable presentation on "Ecclesial Communion and Controversy," at the World Press Congress organized this past week by the Pontifical Council for Social Communications. *** Thank you for the invitation to speak at this important congress. How Catholic communicators deal with controversy is not a theoretical exercise: the priestly sex abuse crisis is a kind of classic case of how Catholic media have had to respond to bad news inside the church. The events of recent months have been very painful for Catholics. The facts are painful. And the news coverage has been painful. None of us in the Catholic press want to be seen as apologists for perpetrators or inept bishops. At the same time, there's a sense that much of the mainstream

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reporting has not done justice to the complexities of this issue. I want to focus on two things today: first, how the English-language Catholic press has reported on the sex abuse scandal over the last 20 years; and second, some distinctive differences between the Catholic press and the secular press in covering this issue today. In a sense, for U.S. Catholic media this past year has been déjà vu. In 2002, the clerical sex abuse scandal broke into the public domain with a vengeance. Boston was the epicenter, but soon enough past cases of abuse were emerging in many dioceses (much like we're seeing today in Europe.) But that's not the full history. The revelations of 2002 seemed to replay similar revelations in the United States from the early 1990s. In fact, in 1993, the editors of CNS client publications chose clergy sex abuse as the top story of the year. 1993 -- a year when cases of

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clerical sex abuse were made public; when major lawsuits were threatening the financial wellbeing of local churches; and when many U.S. dioceses established policies to prevent this kind of abuse and deal with it. I think Catholic media have been on a learning curve since that time, nearly 20 years ago. We need to be honest here. For a long time, local diocesan media were reluctant to report on sex abuse cases, often because their bishop didn't want it in the diocesan paper. And this raises some serious questions: What happens when the bishop is the publisher of the newspaper, or directly manages other media in the diocese? If you are a professional communicator and a Catholic who is loyal to the church, where does the commitment to journalistic excellence end? Over the years we've had a series of statements in the church about the need for clear and open


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communications: Pope John Paul II said the church should be a "glass house." More recently Pope Benedict said the sex abuse crisis calls for transparency and "absolute sincerity" in the church. In light of this, perhaps Catholic communicators should examine their own consciences and ask: Have we held ourselves and, in some cases, our superiors, to these higher standards? Or have we been part of the problem? Covering the sex abuse story over the last 20 years was much easier for Catholic News Service. We ran hundreds of stories on the topic in the 1990s, and hundreds more over the last decade. It was easier for CNS because although we're associated with the US bishops' conference, we are an editorially independent wire service, and our client newspapers expect us to cover all the news, good and bad, that directly affects the Catholic Church. I think the events of 2002 began to change the paradigm of Catholic news coverage of the sex abuse scandal. First, because many in the Catholic press shared the sense of outrage over these disclosures. Keep in mind that by this time, the Vatican and the pope had come forward with their own condemnations of sex abuse. It's simple, of course, to express outrage over the sexual abuse of minors. It's much more difficult to assess how well bishops handled these cases, what should be done to perpetrators, what protection policies should be put into place. But increasingly, in 2002, Catholic media joined this discussion. There were critical voices in the Catholic press, then and now, over

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the way the hierarchy responded. To cite just one example, Russell Shaw, a longtime Catholic journalist, a onetime spokesman for the US bishops and a consultor to this pontifical council, said a culture of clericalism and unnecessary secrecy in the church were primary contributing causes of the sex abuse scandal. Eight years ago was also a time when many Catholic bloggers emerged, and they gave voice to grassroots

questions and criticisms over the sex abuse scandal. Because they were less tied to existing institutions like a diocese or a religious order, they wrote and spoke more freely. They were always opinionated, not always correct with their information, but they contributed greatly to the sense that this was a real conversation among Catholics, and not something being handled behind closed doors. The adoption of US sex abuse norms in 2002 was a focus of this conversation. I cannot remember a topic that was so thoroughly examined and debated, in such detail, in the Catholic media in the United States. You rarely have Catholic reporters and bloggers talking about the finer points of canon law, but in this case you did. I think US Catholics

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and Catholic media felt some tension with the Vatican over this; this was evident after Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, at a Vatican press conference, suggested that sex abuse was a problem primarily in the English speaking world. That prompted a reaction among many US Catholic journalists: the cardinal's comment was seen as evidence that the Vatican just didn't get it. But in fact, I think the Vatican was slowly "getting it" and Cardinal Castrillon was becoming a minority voice. When the Vatican approved the US sex abuse norms, it marked a turning point in the handling of the abuse crisis. It led to additional Vatican provisions in 2003. And this past year, when many of those provisions were made part of universal church law, it was a sign of how much has changed at the Vatican. Let me give you an example of what has changed: In 2001, CNS broke the story of Pope John Paul's motu proprio "Sacramentorum sanctitatis tutela," which reserved sex abuse cases to the doctrinal congregation, and set up strict new procedures to deal with offenders. We worked for weeks on the story, and we had to squeeze information out of Vatican officials. And this was not a "bad news" story; this was a "good news" story about the Vatican taking action, taking these sins more seriously. You would think they would want the world to know; but they didn't. Today, it's completely different. As you know, the Vatican has made so much information available about sex abuse policies and procedures that I bet there are very few in this room who have read it all. They have a Vatican


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"I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ's grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives." Pope Benedict XVI Web page dedicated to the issue. The Vatican today is proactive. In terms of information, in terms of journalism, these are hard-won battles. In recent months, as we all know, the re-emergence of the sex abuse scandal has drawn coverage by Catholic and secular media. And I think this time around, Catholic media share in the disappointment felt by bishops and the Vatican at the way the mainstream media has reported the issue. Here are some distinctive traits that I think Catholic media have brought to this coverage, traits that are often missing among secular journalists: 1. Context: Because Catholic media are familiar with what happened in 1993 or in 2002, they know the church has already responded with some very good steps and programs. 2. Time frame: Catholic media know that most cases of clerical abuse are from past decades, with very few occurring today -- something that I think most readers of newspapers still don't understand. 3. Fairness: There has been, I think, a "gotcha" mentality in efforts to somehow lay the sex abuse scandal at Pope Benedict's doorstep. Catholic journalists know that this is simply not how it happened, and that the current pope took many steps as head of the doctrinal congregation to deal with the problem. As with many things, he was methodical and determined and patient. In the eyes of some critics,

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perhaps too patient and deliberate. But certainly he was moving in the right direction. The portrait of Pope Benedict as an architect of cover-up is a false caricature, in my opinion. 4. Perspective: Catholic media have resisted, by and large, the trend toward hammering one big story incessantly, almost to the exclusion of anything else. For the first six months of this year, if you read a story about the Vatican in a major US newspaper, it was probably about sex abuse. This is a hallmark of the cable-news mentality that seems to have invaded every newsroom: a big story is established and then fed daily, like a beast. The essential storyline is never questioned. Details, subtleties and ambiguous information all fall by the wayside. You keep the big story going: this is the gospel of the modern mass media, I think largely for economic reasons. And fortunately, the Catholic press has managed to resist this and keep a perspective, reporting on sex abuse as a painful failure, but not as if it were the only aspect -- or even the main aspect -- of contemporary church life. What worries me is that Catholic communicators, with all their perspective, context and fairness on the sex abuse story, have not really had much impact beyond their own limited audience. We feel frustration at times over how the mainstream media treats the church; but this frustration is often translated into a

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kind of closed-circuit discussion among ourselves. There's a risk of becoming too self-congratulatory. We need to ask: how well do we really communicate with the modern world, the wider world, beyond our own ecclesial borders?. One final point: in terms of communion and controversy, the Catholic press is different and distinctive because it shares in the mission of the church -- to spread the Gospel through contemporary means of communication. This is exactly what Catholic News Service says in our own mission statement. We want to tell the truth, and we want to do it fairly and fully. And if I may, I'll close by reading from our mission statement about how we cover the news: "Some of that news is good and some is bad, but it is what readers need to know in order to work for salvation. They need to know that there are saints in the making in the Church today and they need to know that there are sinners too."

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Pope on Catholic Journalist  

The search for truth must be pursued by Catholic journalists with a passionate mind and heart, but also with the professionalism of competen...